Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva is a central figure in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism. Her statue often adorns homes and businesses both of Buddhists, Taoists and ordinary folk often in the hope that lighting incense to her and making prostrations will prompt her to grant the requests and prayers of devotees. Her name in Chinese, Guan Shi Yin 觀世音 literally means the one who looks into the sounds of the cries of suffering. At first glance this seems to be grammatical incongruence as it implies a visual response to sound. One normally listens to sound, not look at it. The Chinese word 觀 guan, meaning to look around, look into, also implies a deep looking which examines all aspects of the object being observed. Here, I think, rests the key for us in our imitation of her qualities so often overlooked. It is the quality of deep and compassionate listening. When we listen deeply to another we enable a person to hear the murmur of their own soul and listen them into deeper healing. Herein lays the mystery of Guan Shi Yin.
Once a man came knocking at my door. He was eager to tell me all about his religion and why I should believe and have faith in it. I gently told him I was Buddhist. “So what does that mean exactly”, asked the man. “Tell me about this Buddhism. I mean for you to be saved. . . .” The man continued to passionately expound the benefits of his religion. This went on for some twenty minutes during which I listened carefully. As I was having to attend to other things I indicated that we needed to wind up the conversation. “Oh, but you didn’t tell me about your Buddhism” the man interjected. “I did” came my reply to a very puzzled look. “I listened.”
When we deeply listen to another we enter into their space and create a new space. It is a space of welcome and deep mindfulness to their very being. It is spiritual art and the chief tool for the peacemaker. When we do this we allow the other to place the colours of their words on a canvass so they can begin to see their inner world. If they do not like what they see they have the opportunity to change the story and see new colours, new shapes, new life. They become awakened to their story.
Today we have the opportunity to become the Boddhisattva Guan Shi Yin to others, to our children, to our loved ones, friends, the one we perceive as our enemy. When we deeply listen we plant the seeds of peace and open the way to healing and life.